Dolphins Save Lifeguards from Circling Great White Shark

Down Under DolphinsThey were behaving really weird...

Whangarei, New Zealand  30-Oct-2004 [JP]: Lifeguard Rob Howes (47), his daughter Niccy (15), Karina Cooper (15), and Helen Slade (16), were swimming 100m out to sea at Ocean Beach (near Whangarei) when seven bottlenose dolphins sped towards them and herded them together.

Rob and Helen had drifted about 20m away from the others when a dolphin swam straight at them and dived a few metres in front of them. I turned in the water to see where it was going to come up, but instead I saw this great big grey fish swim around me – most likely a 3m-long great white shark, said Rob. It glided around in an arc and headed for the other two girls. My heart went into my mouth, because one of them was my daughter. The dolphins were going ballistic.

Rob said the dolphins herded the swimmers - members of the Whangarei Heads Surf Lifesaving Club - back together and circled protectively around them for another 40 minutes, fending off the shark. They were behaving really weird, Rob said, turning tight circles on us, and slapping the water with their tails.

Rob decided not to tell the three girls a shark was sharing the water with them.

Lifeguard Matt Fleet was patrolling out from the surf beach in a rescue boat and saw the dolphins' unusual behaviour. He dived out of the boat to join the group in clear water and had a good view of the great white.

Dr. Rochelle Constantine, from the Auckland University School of Biological Science, said it was a rare event, but she had heard of similar things happening overseas. She said sharks were not normally a threat to New Zealand's bottlenose dolphins, but the dolphins would attack them if they felt at risk. From my understanding of the behaviour of these dolphins they certainly were acting in a way which indicated the shark posed a threat to something. Dolphins are known for helping helpless things. It is an altruistic response and bottlenose dolphins in particular are known for it.

Ingrid Visser, who has studied marine mammals for 14 years, said there had been reports from around the world of dolphins protecting swimmers. The dolphins could have sensed the danger to the swimmers and taken action to protect them.

We @ now have a greater appreciation for all things Down Under...